Brandon Sun, Brandon, Manitoba
Sun, Jun 3, 1990 – Page 21
By Glenn Johnson
Bible fellowship battling cult label
Is it a cult or a cultural misunderstanding?
Some educators say the University Bible Fellowship lures impressionable students into a mind-controlling cult and is not welcome on campus.
But the fellowship—which has many missionaries of Korean descent – blames its troubles on cultural misunderstandings and conflicting religious beliefs.
“We are a Christian group, we are Presbyterian in background, and we believe the Bible is the word of God,” fellowship co-founder Sarah Barry said in a recent interview from her office in Chicago.
“We’ve been called fundamentalists because of that but we don’t have any strange doctrines.”
Last September, Winnipeg’s Red River Community College warned students that members of organization were attending classes for the purpose of recruitment.
The University of Winnipeg banned the group in 1986, three years after it first moved to Canada.
“We haven’t banned them from here, but it’s something the students should be aware of,” Red River president Ray Newman said in an interview.
“Sometimes students are vulnerable.”
The University of Manitoba escorted some group members off campus after an incident last fall but Newman said he hasn’t received a complaint about the group yet and plans no action unless he does.
Gord Gillespie of the Manitoba Cult Awareness Centre says students are generally approached by two people, who ask if they are missing something in their lives. They are then invited to join a Bible study group.
“They deal with the orthodox Bible but they twist it,” he told the Winnipeg Sun, which ran the stories of some former members of the fellowship earlier this spring.
“They want to control. They try to rule out TV, reading newspapers. They want them reject family and friends.”
Barry insists the allegations are untrue.
“I watch television and read newspapers and I have my mother here living with me,” she said.
“If somebody is a couch potato and sits and watches television all day, we certainly discourage that,”
Barry said she and Korean missionary Samuel Lee founded the fellowship after she went to Korea in 1955 to open a small student centre for the Presbyterian mission.
“We’ve found that working as foreign missionaries… with cultural differences…all of us find that sometimes we don’t maybe understand people as well as we should. Anybody can say ‘no’,”
The fellowship moved to Canada through Winnipeg but has also expanded to Toronto and Hamilton, although Barry said she didn’t know how many members of her fellowship operate in Canada.
Theresa, a former member and a second-year student at Red River, told the Winnipeg Sun she was 20 when she joined in 1986. She said Bible study and prayer took up all her free time, leaving her exhausted.
She left two years later when the group tried to arrange a marriage for her.
“They’re pushy when they approach you. They won’t accept no,”
Barry said the fellowship doesn’t use pressure tactics or arrange marriages but they do stress morality.
“In this very promiscuous society we encourage people to live moral lives. We don’t encourage pointless dating.
“If someone indicated they would like to be introduced to someone to be married, we’d introduce them. They don’t have to marry them.”
Maxine, another former member, told the newspaper she left the organization because it tried to control her every aspect of her life, including the way she dressed and wore her hair.
“Once they get you and you’ve been there a while, you become so committed it’s hard to get out,” she said, adding that the fellowship became like a family to her/
Barry acknowledges the group has had a lot of bad press.
“If we are criticized because we try to live a Christian lifestyle in an un-Christian society, then so be it.”